Still Learning How to Fly ~ Chapter Four "The Hairy Years" (Pt.4)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 23rd Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

As I begin high school, I'm all too aware, concerned, and confused about my emotional and physical attraction to my male fellow classmates, but I don't know what to do about it.

Puppy Love?

It would be early in my 8th grade year that I got my first job. The paper boy in our neighborhood, a high-schooler whose name escapes me was moving on to greener pastures, and at 13 he felt that I could handle the job. As I possessed the requisite bike which also included the much needed basket on the front, all I really needed was to be able to be available after school and to be willing to get up really early on Sunday mornings to deliver the Jackson Citizen Patriot, our daily local which had been around forever. My parents and I agreed this was a good step for me, and being the responsible person I was known for, I soon took over his route of 44 customers. And the approximately five bucks per week I would earn for my effort wasn’t a kick in the butt for a 13-year old either. I was rich! I was able to save and still add to my blossoming record collection. Music, music, music.

What I hadn’t been forewarned about were the occupational hazards of door-to-door work. It wasn’t the hours, though that early Sunday morning took a little getting used to at first. No it wasn’t that. It wasn’t so much the customers who were late in paying their bills. Nope, not that. It wasn’t even the inclement weather, and in Michigan there was often plenty of that. Nope. I coped with all of that. It was the fauna. The animals. Specifically the customer’s dogs, and I soon realized what every postman who ever delivered the mail on foot knew at one time or another: profound fear! I’d never been afraid of dogs before, and at first I wasn’t, but after the first dog bite, I developed it. And that just did it. I just couldn’t hide the fear after that, and the dogs could all smell it on me. During my 15-month tenure on the job I was bitten three times, one of them a mauling by a very large German Shepherd who was on a chain attached to a spike which had been pounded deeply into the cement that he pulled loose in order to get to me, and he knocked me over, bit me in the leg tearing my pants to shreds on the left side. Fortunately, his owner who was also my school bus driver got to him in time before any further damage could be done, and she pulled him off of me, put me and my bike in her station wagon and drove me home to inform and apologize to my folks and get the rest of the papers to my friend and substitute, Jimmy who lived two houses down. She then drove me to the ER in town where I was patched up. And lastly we ended up at the department store where she bought me a brand new pair of pants far better than the ones her dog had destroyed. What a lady! But the fear of dogs remained even more deeply entrenched within me.

Eventually though as I went into high school the next year, 9th grade would bring new challenges for me, and one of those most certainly was high school athletics. My junior high gym teacher, Mr. Clark, had been grooming me for the past two years for his wrestling program at the high school level especially knowing I’d compete in the heavyweight class. Bill wasn’t interested in going out for the team, so that left me, and I was interested, and fortunately for our team there was already another upperclassman competing in the heavyweight class, a senior named Roy. As a freshman, I certainly wasn’t ready yet, and so I competed on the junior varsity team.

Everything runs its course, and my working days came to an end for awhile. Because I would have wrestling practice everyday after school beginning with the winter of 1965-66, I was no longer available to deliver the papers, and so I passed on my route to my substitute and friend, Jimmy. But the responsibility was good for me while it lasted, all except the dog bites.

Ninth grade brought many new wonders for me. Gone was the old junior high which had been the old high school. This was the new high school building just a few years old at the time, so everything was still bright and shiny. And there was a new mixture of students, because we also had joining us kids from the catholic school in Michigan Center which only ran up through 8th grade, so this presented a new opportunity for new friends. Additionally, due to a school district boundary problem on the south side of our district where it adjoined with the Columbia School District, we had a few students coming over from the Clark Lake area, and that’s how I met Phillip, better known as Chip.

Chip was simply fascinating to me with brown unruly hair which carried a shock that hung down on his forehead touching his eyebrows on occasion. And he was usually smiling about something like there was a punch line to life’s little joke playing in his head in an endless loop. He stood just a tad shorter than me of average build and normal weight. But what really fascinated me about him was that he was smarter than me, and I knew it right off. And I’d never met anyone like him with such a quick mind. He was simply brilliant. Although I was the kind of person accessible to all groups of students, up until this time my closest friends had been the ones we would now call the nerds (I prefer brainiacs), and that would not change with the coming of Chip, but while he was at our school we hung out together a lot, though only at school. But I found myself growing closer and closer.

And academically I couldn’t touch the guy! He was all-A, and I mean A! If there was a minus in there I didn’t see it. I was virtually all-A, but there was always a minus, maybe two, and always one B+ just to keep me honest and hard working. But we sort of had this jocular rivalry, and yet I knew that I’d never touch him. He was sterling!

Chip didn’t do any sports, and I had wrestling, but only that, and we were underclassmen, so neither of us could drive. I lived at Gilletts Lake way to the north of the school, and he lived at Clark Lake way to the south, so we never managed to hang out after school. And at the end of our idyllic two years together during which time he managed to motivate me to a full-on A in the Latin class which we shared, the school district boundary problem on the south side had been fixed, and Chip went on to a stellar career at Columbia Central High School graduating as valedictorian.

I didn’t realize it until after he was gone, but during my later years of high school when there was no Chip there was an emptiness. Was it the sparring I missed? Or was it something more? Puppy love?

The Jovial Giant

Mr. Clark had a saying, “Can’t never did anything.” This admonition has remained with me through the years and somehow spurred me onward when some of them appeared darker than others toward the light. His willingness to repeat it so often during wrestling practice was meant to help his Jovial Giant as he used to call me (a phrase I found much more socially acceptable and positive than my dad’s) be spurred along the road to greater success in my wrestling career. For all of his coaching skills, and no matter how hard he tried, I often found it difficult to get angry enough in the heat of battle in the arena. Sometimes I would, but I was never consistent.

Mr. Clark never seemed to lose faith in me though, and we kept on through my JV year, and I managed to win enough to earn my letter. After Roy graduated, I was the sole proprietor of the heavyweight class at our high school for the next two seasons, and I always managed to win enough of my matches to earn my Varsity letters. I wasn’t stellar, but there were a couple of poor souls in our athletic conference who were really bad off. And I always knew I could take advantage of them. And then there was Owen, a farm boy from Western High School who stood 6 feet 5 inches tall and tipped the scales at 341 pounds. We all feared Owen. Why not? He should have been born green! I actually managed to get a take-down on him because I was so much smaller and quicker than him, pulling his feet out from under him and then jumping on top. But then he flipped me over like a sack of potatoes and easily pinned me, literally squashing the air out of my lungs with three seconds to go in the first period. Our school still won that meet, however, and that’s usually the way it went. We were a great team, and it usually did not depend on me. Mercifully.

In the three years that I wrestled in high school, junior varsity in my freshmen year, and varsity the next two, how many times do you think my parents came to watch me perform? Zero. Or anybody else from my family? Zero. Just me. Nobody else. Ever. And that’s just the way it was.

A Growing Concern: Confusion & Rationalization

One thing about these years had started to concern me very much though, and it was a growing inner turmoil within me which I tried to understand but had nowhere to go with it. This was my physical and emotional attraction to the other guys I was around all the time. By this time and this age I’d become all too cognizant of it, and I could no longer ignore the fact that I really, really was attracted to Jim’s fat and floppy cock, and Dick’s perfect ass and legs while we were showering off after wrestling practice, and I had no attraction at all for any of my female friends or classmates. Being awkward and ordinary looking, I’m certain that looker room talk had enumerated those of our male classmates who were well-endowed and those less fortunate, and I would be numbered with the latter, and because of all of this and my confusion I found myself totally lacking in self-confidence.

My best female friend, Marcia, arranged for a double dinner date during or junior year in high school with her friend Frieda, and Marcia made dinner for the four of us at her house though I don’t recall who her date was. And we had a nice time just talking. I recall Marcia trying to make it so romantic for all of us, dinner by candlelight.

I couldn’t stay too late because it was the Friday night before our Regional Wrestling Tournament the next morning over in Galesburg, Michigan, and the team had to be at the high school before dawn to catch the bus. So I had to bow out a little early from my first official date, and I drove Frieda home. Well, it was the most awkward of moments when I walked her to the door, because I just couldn’t bring myself to kiss her. I sort of gave her a half-hearted hug and walked back to the car as we said good-night. She had to be thinking he’s one of those.

The word gay hadn’t reached us yet in small town Michigan. It wouldn’t arrive until after the Stonewall riots in New York City of 1969 just a few weeks after I graduated from high school the next year. But who I was sexual orientation-wise I had no idea. Try to understand that that my damaged psyche appeared to be overcompensating at this point in my life, I believe. I couldn’t take another hit. I could not be one of those, and, in fact, at that time, we were so uneducated that my understanding of a homosexual person was so limited that I thought to be one I understood I needed to walk and talk a certain way in order to be. Like Uncle Frank. Like Truman Capote, and by now I’d read the book In Cold Blood, so I was most familiar with Mr. Capote. But I also thought that many homosexuals took it a step further and put on women’s make-up and clothing on occasion. And none of this, the walk, the talk, the effeminate stuff was me. I had yet to learn about and come to an accurate understanding of transvestitism.

Rationalization. Somehow through all of my ignorance of human sexuality, because I was having none other than with myself, and I was reading little or nothing about it because in our neck of the woods it wasn’t available yet, or I wasn’t looking in the right places, I began rationalizing. I had an obvious physical and emotional attraction to men which I could not deny. However, I’d been constantly beat on by my mom as a child, and my dad had been emotionally absent from me for all my life, and so I fed off the idea for years that once I finally got married and starting having regular sex with a woman it would all work out. And this became my goal. In the meantime, male fantasy would continue, but I always held the hope it would work itself out in the end. Sometimes being smart can work against you.

(In the next and final installment of this chapter, I branch out into a really good high school co-op job and graduate high school.)

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Autobiography, Child Abuse, Childhood, Childhood Memories, Gay, Gay Experience, Gay Lesbian And Bisexual, Gay Men, Gays, Glbt, Lgbt, Memoir, Memoirs, Memories, Memories From Childhood, Memories From My Young Days, Non Fiction, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Serial, Series, True Experiences, True Stories, True Story

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

Share this page

moderator Steve Kinsman moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


Add a comment
Can't login?